Patriots hold on for 31-28 win over Colts

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Patriots hold on for 31-28 win over Colts

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Say what you will about the Patriots defense -- and there's plenty to say after yet another fourth-quarter meltdown -- but don't say it didn't come through at the absolute critical time Sunday.

A tumbling interception by James Sanders on the New England 6-yard line with 30 seconds left halted what was shaping up as a game-winning Colts drive, in what was shaping up as another monumental New England collapse against Indianapolis, and clinched the Pats' 31-28 victory in a showdown of AFC powers.

The Patriots had jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first 17 minutes of the game and led, 31-14, after a Shayne Graham field goal with 10:23 to play in the fourth quarter. And if that sounds familiar, it should: The Pats had a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter at Indianapolis last November but wound up losing, 35-34, in a game that set the tone for the disappointing limp to the finish -- and quick playoff ouster -- of the '09 Patriots.

Those memories stirred when the Colts needed only 2 minutes and 26 seconds to drive 73 yards in 7 plays for the touchdown -- a five-yard Peyton Manning pass to Blair White -- that cut the lead to 31-21.

They became stronger when the Pats' offense, which had had its way with the crippled Indianapolis defense all afternoon, went three-and-out for the first time all afternoon and wiped less than a minute off the clock.

And Indianapolis 2009 was all anyone could think of when the Colts again went 73 yards in 7 plays -- this time in only 2 minutes and 18 seconds -- and again scored on a Manning-to-White hookup, this one of 18 yards, that made the score 31-28 with 4:46 still left on the clock.

The Patriots' second collapse in two years seemed inevitable when the offense again was unable to put together a time-consuming drive and punted the ball back to the Colts with 2:25 left. Within four plays, Indianapolis had the ball in New England territory, and seemed in such control that Manning was calling running plays for Donald Brown . . . so confident he would score, it seemed, that he was also working the clock to make sure the Patriots would have no time to respond once the Colts tied the game or took the lead.

With 36 seconds left, they were in Adam Vinatieri field-goal range on the Patriots' 24.

And then Manning launched a pass down the right sideline intended for Pierre Garcon. Sanders, at the 6-yard line, leaped as high as he could, snared the ball, and fell backwards onto the turf. The drive was ended, the collapse was averted, and the game was New England's.

"I thought I had a chance for the ball," Sanders said. "Linebacker Gary Guyton and I had a double team on the tight end Jacob Tamme and looking through Tamme to Peyton, I saw that he saw that once I stepped down that he had Garcon one-on-one with the corner. So I tried to drop back at the last second and help.

"Luckily, I got enough depth to make the play."

"We were going for the win," said a rueful Manning afterward. "We had some time and a good play call. Just a poor throw."

Nowhere in the first 50 minutes did such an ending seem in the offing.

The Pats intercepted Manning on the Colts' first possession -- Brandon Meriweather doing the honors -- and a 39-yard return had the Pats in business at the Indianapolis 32. Four plays later, Tom Brady hit Wes Welker with a 22-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.

They made it 14-0 with 1:25 elapsed in the second quarter on an eight-yard Brady-to-Aaron Hernandez pass, which capped a 15-play, 82-yard drive. They added another TD -- on a five-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis -- sandwiched around a pair of Manning touchdown passes, of 1 yard to Gijon Robinson to 11 yards to Reggie Wayne, and led 21-14 at halftime.

Their defense stopped Manning in the third quarter and they upped their lead to 31-14 on an electrifying, 36-yard touchdown run by Danny Woodhead and the Graham field goal.

And then came the garrison finish.

"We just knew we had to make a play," said Sanders. "We knew that if we sat back and didn't make a play that we'd probably lose the game because Manning is just that good at running the offense. We had to go out there and take that victory and we did at the end."

"We've got a quick turnaround here to play Detroit Thursday, so we can't stay on this very long," saidcoach Bill Belichick of the victory, which improved their record to 8-2and keeps them tied with the Jets for first place in the AFC East. "But well enjoy it here for a couple hours."

You might not think there'd be a whole lot to enjoy, considering how it played out.

But it sure beats how they felt last year.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Has Brissett removed Patriots' need for veteran quarterback help?

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Has Brissett removed Patriots' need for veteran quarterback help?

FOXBORO – Talked to Jacoby Brissett on Sunday. His session with the media was as efficient and frills-free as his Friday night performance against the Carolina Panthers.

Brissett, the third-rounder From NC State, keeps improving. From 7-for-13 for 63 yards in the first game of the preseason to 9-for-13 for 87 yards Week 2 to a 9-for-9, 85-yard, one touchdown performance against Carolina.

He’s completed all manner of passes – inside, outside, checkdowns, tight windows – and looked preternaturally comfortable doing so.

Maybe I have a little recency bias working, but I don’t recall a drafted quarterback looking as poised and in command in his rookie preseason as Brissett has so far. Jimmy Garoppolo may have had more impressive game-by-game numbers, but Brissett oozes composure that that I don’t think Garoppolo matched.

Encircled by a media horde Sunday, Brissett was pleasant and perfunctory when asked about his performance.

“Definitely it was progress,” he said, adding that he’s, "still learning. I’m sure I’ll be learning until I leave here."

 Even though he was 9-for-9, Brissett said that watching film he could see “things you messed up on and could have done better.”

Asked for an example, Brissett talk about speed. At the line of scrimmage, going through progressions and delivering the ball, Brissett said all of it can improve.

The interesting question the Patriots face now is whether they are prepared to allow Brissett to be the lone backup to the still relatively green Garoppolo. Or does the team need an experienced backup to call on if Jimmy melts down?

Thursday night could be a telling evening for that. With Garoppolo unlikely to play a ton so the team can make sure he’s good to go for the opener, it comes down to who benefits more from reps against the Giants, Tom Brady or Brissett?

It shouldn’t be close. Brissett needs the reps.

Meanwhile, we made mention of Brissett’s relationship with Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells after he was drafted and I figured revisiting that on Sunday wouldn’t hurt.

Brissett said he’s circled up with Parcells “here and there” but smiled knowingly and said, “He’s not the head coach here so you kinda need to listen to what your coach here is saying.”

Ex-Patriot Ridley signs with Colts

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Ex-Patriot Ridley signs with Colts

After being cut from the Detriot Lions last week, Stevan Ridely has signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

The running back played for the Patriots for four seasons (2011-2014), averaging 4.3 yards per carry while scoring 22 touchdowns in 52 games. He only played in six game in his final year with New England as a result of a torn ACL and MCL.

Ridley played for the AFC-East rival New York Jets in 2015 with a limited role in the nine games he played.

 

Belichick discusses risk of exposing players to waiver claims

Belichick discusses risk of exposing players to waiver claims

Bill Belichick knows the data. Knows the risk involved in exposing a player to a waiver claim at this time of the year and long ago came to the uneasy truce that you can’t keep ‘em all and somebody else might snag ‘em.

This summer, the Patriots don’t have a mass of easy releases, especially among their rookies and first-year players.

There are a lot of very intriguing players who’ve looked good either in practices, games or both. Good enough to make the Pats think twice about whether they want to leave them exposed.

Top of mind for me there are corners Jonathan Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc, linebacker Elandon Roberts, wide receiver DeAndre Carter, defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton and running back D.J. Foster who appear to be right on the roster bubble but are impressive.

“It’s something you take into consideration, it’s a hard thing to predict,” Belichick said when asked about weighing the risk of a released player the Patriots would like to re-sign to their practice squad getting claimed. “There’s going to be, I don’t know, certainly going to be a lot of players, probably over 1,000 players that will be exposed to waivers in the next eight calendar days or whatever it’ll be. I think the average claim is somewhere in the high 20s there…so that’s what the odds are. We’ve had years where we haven’t had any of our players claimed and we’ve had years where we’ve had multiple players claimed. I think at the end you just have to do what you think is best for your team.”

Belichick has given us terrific insight this week into how he and Nick Caserio strategize their roster decisions. When asked about the team’s releases in advance of the cutdown deadlines, Belichick mentioned the team wanted to have the ability to accommodate new players who may come available.

Enter the Barkevious.

He also got into projecting young players against established performance levels of veterans and weighing current contributions against future ones.

"That’s the $64,000 question," Belichick said on Tuesday. "That’s what it is. It’s been like that since the day I got into this league. From all of the personnel meetings I’ve ever been in it’s a [matter of] a player who’s more experienced [and] more ready to help the team now, versus a player that’s not as ready now but at some point you think the pendulum will swing in his favor. Will you do that? Can you do that? What are the consequences of making that move? What are the consequences of not making that move? How likely, as you said, is it that you could keep both players in some capacity?

"That’s what it’s about, trying to balance now with later. We’re going to field a team in November, we’re going to field a team next year, we’re going to field a team in 2018. Not that we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we’re going to be in business in those years, so we have to sort of have an eye on those moving forward and a lot of the other factors that go into that. Those are all tough decisions. They’re all things that you really have to think about."

As is the risk of having a player scooped.

“It’s pretty hard to predict what’s going to happen when you put players on the wire because in all honesty, you don’t know what the other [31] teams are going to do and who they’re going to put on the wire,” Belichick explained. “Even though you put a player out there that you don’t want to lose, if another team happens to put a player out there that may be a team that needs that position and would be better with your player, your player gets claimed. Sometimes we waive players that we didn’t think would get claimed and they were, so that’s really hard to predict.

“In the end, you’ve got to make the decision that you feel like is best for your football team, and if you really want that player and you just can’t bear to live without them, then you shouldn’t be exposing them to the wire,” he concluded. “That’s the reality of it. We keep an eye on them, but I don’t think it’s an overriding factor. If you’re prepared to waive them, then you’ve got to be prepared to lose them. That’s just the way it is.”